Winnebago County CASA celebrates 20 years

Saturday, March 24, Winnebago County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) will celebrate 20 years of advocating for abused and neglected children who are involved in the Winnebago County Juvenile Court System.

The celebration will be at the Hilton Garden Suites, 7675 Walton St., Rockford, and begins at 6 p.m. All CASAs, past and present, will be honored, as well as Judge Bradner Riggs and the Junior League of Rockford for their part in bringing the program to Winnebago County.

The first CASA program in the country was conceived by a Seattle judge who was concerned about making decisions about abused and neglected children’s lives without sufficient information. His idea of using trained community volunteers was so successful judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA with the passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act. Today, more than 900 CASA programs are in operation, with 50,000 women and men serving as CASA volunteers.

In the winter of 1986, Diane Kramer, from the Junior League of Rockford, and retired Judge Bradner Riggs brought the facts about the CASA program to the attention of the Junior League with the conviction that this project would be of great benefit to the county in helping children who have been abused or neglected.

In the spring of 1986, the project was approved by the Junior League, and a committee under Lea Halsey and Kathy Catalano’s leadership was formed. The project budget was to be one of the highest ever approved by Junior League. Grant writing began early in the project, and, in an 18-month period, brought in more than $15,000.

Along with the development of funding, the recruiting and training of CASA volunteers began. After 35 hours of training and six hours of court observation, the first case assigned to a CASA by the Juvenile Court Judge was in March 1987. Within two years, 50 CASAs were trained.

Over the last 20 years, more than 400 CASA volunteers have gone through the training to be a CASA and have served more than 1,375 children.

Winnebago County CASA is affiliated with the National CASA Association, (, which has CASA programs in all 50 states, and with Illinois CASA (

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